A gold hand-drawn ladybug hangs in Trishia Shelly-Stephens’ freshly painted new office. It is an ode to her friend D’Ana, whose nickname was “Ladybug,” who died from metastatic breast cancer last June.
Shelly-Stephens gets emotional as she explains how she and D’Ana used to talk about starting a T-shirt company.
“She was always the one that (said) we’ve got to do this, and we never did, and then I said, ‘I can’t not do it,’ ” she said.
D’Ana, who also went by “Gabby” because she was always talking, continues to inspire Shelly-Stephens daily. The framed ladybug hangs directly across from Shelly-Stephens’ desk.
“It hangs in my office to remind me whenever I have doubts or fear that she is with me and that life’s too short not to go for it,” she said.
Mutant Printing & Promotions and Snarky Cancer, a screen-printing business with a new storefront in Kennewick, opened this summer.
Snarky Cancer is the retail arm of the business, while Mutant Printing & Promotions handles the production of promotional items.
Mutant Printing & Promotions designs and sells customized mugs, banners and other products for the general public, offering special pricing for all nonprofits and schools.
T-shirt designs cover one of the walls in their shop like wallpaper, and the storefront opens into a large space with neon green and pink screen printers. There is a dark room off to the side where the screen images are exposed under special lights.
More than half of the equipment was once in Shelly-Stephens’ and her husband Mike Stephen’s garage when they began screen printing shirts last year.
Cancer has been a lifelong fight for Shelly-Stephens, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her son, Tre Shelly, at the age of 21. She faced a second breast cancer diagnosis two years later. Tre was diagnosed with his first cancer when he was 2 years old.
Both Trishia and Tre have a rare genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, or LFS, which affects the specific gene that prevents the human body from developing tumors. LFS patients have a high risk of developing cancer, due to what Trishia and many with the syndrome call “mutant” cells. Trishia and her LFS community refer to themselves as “mutants.”
Her family was doing well for several years, with a few surgeries here and there for both Tre and Trishia, until January 2014 when Tre was diagnosed with another cancer. He would be diagnosed with his fourth cancer by 2016.
The idea for Snarky Cancer came from homemade wrapping paper that Trishia used to cover Tre’s PlayStation that she and Mike gave him after his second cancer diagnosis.
“In our family, if you get diagnosed with cancer, you get a present, and I had made him wrapping paper that says, ‘Cancer sucks, but you don’t,’ ” Trishia said. “And I thought there should be a line of this.”
After years of battling Tre’s multiple diagnoses, including traveling and living in other states for treatment for months at a time, and after D’Ana died, Trishia decided it was time to take a “leap of faith.” She quit her full-time job as a clinic director at a chiropractic office and embraced her business background to open up her own.
In October 2017, Trishia and Mike got their business license and began to research how to make T-shirts.
She had never opened Adobe Illustrator. He had never screen printed before in his life. They attended classes and watched hours of YouTube videos.
Trishia learned how to make T-shirt designs online. The couple converted their garage into a workspace and began printing shirts. Her dining room was her office, and their living room was their shipping station. Things got crowded quick, and this spring they found space to remodel into a print shop on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick.
Snarky Cancer T-shirts are witty and eye-catching. T-shirt designs on the wall have slogans like, “Yes I look fabulous, my cancer put on lipstick today,” and “I wish my nipples were half as sensitive as my Facebook friends.”
Trishia said humor has been a huge part of her family’s way to cope with cancer.
“We laugh a whole lot and, you know, of course there are tears too, but it’s really, I think, easy when you have a lot of chaos whether its cancer or whether its diabetes or whatever that it’s easy to get bogged down in the darkness of it,” she said. “And I think it’s really important that you don’t stay there.”
The company has a business model that speaks to the family’s desire to give back to the cancer community.
Snarky Cancer donates 10 percent of its gross retail sales to different 501(c)(3) cancer organizations, primarily focusing on groups that support families who are “cancering,” as Trishia says.
“Giving is a fixed line item part of our budget. We figure if we can’t make it giving, then we don’t deserve to make it because we had so much help when Tre was sick,” she said. “We would have had to second-mortgage our house. I had to take almost an entire year of leave where I was basically only going in (to work) to do the books.”
So far this year, Snarky Cancer has donated to Tri-City Cancer Center’s Warrior Sisterhood, Living LFS, A Shelter for Cancer Families and the Northwest Sarcoma Foundation, all organizations that helped her family in the past few years.
Snarky Cancer helps families around the country run fundraisers for family members or people diagnosed with cancer. Families can create a T-shirt design or Trishia will make a design for free and then sell the shirt on the Snarky Cancer website, with a unique URL. Fundraiser shirts retail for $20 to $25 and families make $10 to $14 per shirt, which can be up to 70 percent of sales.
Mutant Printing only takes and uses enough money to buy the shirts, print them and ship them off, but the rest of the proceeds (usually around 70 percent) from the fundraiser goes directly to the family.
After a few months of doing fundraisers, they have helped families raise more than $5,000, Trishia said. Mutant Printing also will print T-shirts in bulk for groups to sell at events or to auction off.
Trishia does all the work in-house, sourcing ethically-made T-shirts made from organic cotton and recycled water bottles and directly shipping T-shirts out to those who order them.
Mike and Tre do the actual screen printing. Tre works as much as he is physically able to, and Mike comes into the shop when he is not at his full-time job in Pasco as a water treatment operator.
The company also has a retail line of its own shirts that they sell online at snarkycancer.com which they hope to expand soon. Ultimately, Trishia said her goal is to raise $1 million for cancer organizations and families annually.
“My burning desire is that I want to leave a legacy of giving,” she said. “My ultimate goal … is I want to be able to one day say we gave $1 million this year.”
The company’s grand opening celebration is from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 17.
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